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Gilot: Accepting an Honor With Style : Wife of Jonas Salk and former lover of Pablo Picasso gets the Severin Wunderman Museum's Jean Cocteau award.

January 11, 1994|KATHRYN BOLD

As the former live-in love of Pablo Picasso, wife of Dr. Jonas Salk and an artist in her own right, Francoise Gilot knows a thing or two about style.

Because of her personal style and role in the arts, the Severin Wunderman Museum in Irvine chose Gilot as the recipient of its 1994 Jean Cocteau International Style Award. About 110 guests paid $50 each to attend a Saturday ceremony and a lecture by Gilot at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa following a showing of Gilot's exhibit, "Mythology of the Gods," at the museum.

Modern Goddess

To observers, Gilot has lived a life as charmed as one of the Greek gods she paints. She lived with Picasso for 10 years, she married the doctor who perfected a vaccine for polio, and her daughter, Paloma, is an internationally known style-setter and designer.

"For me, style is essentially doing things well. If you want to be outrageous, be outrageous with style. If you want to be restrained, be restrained with style," she said.

"One can't specifically define style. It's like the perfume to a flower. It's a quality you can't analyze."

A native of France who now lives in La Jolla with Salk, Gilot understands the American versus European approach to style.

"What I like about the American woman is she usually has a lot of dynamism. In the U.S., women have a tendency to go forward, to be more exaggerated than in Europe. Many times the rough ideas come from the States, then they are refined in Europe. The American women and the French women are still the best-dressed."

Spirit of Cocteau

After viewing Gilot's paintings at the museum of gods and goddesses, guests headed to the Westin for tea, finger sandwiches and a slide presentation by Gilot that charted the influence of Greek mythology on art through the centuries.

"Francoise Gilot has an incredible presence that comes from deep inside," said Arianna Huffington, emcee of the award ceremony. "She's been through a lot of experiences, but there's also been a lot of pain, which is where her wisdom comes from."

Huffington has written a tell-all biography of Picasso and a new book on "The Gods of Greece" illustrated with many of Gilot's works. Huffington, a native of Greece, attended with her husband Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Santa Barbara).

The Jean Cocteau Style Award is given to those who style and art reflect the spirit of Cocteau, an artist, poet, writer, filmmaker and set designer. The museum has the largest collection of Cocteau's art.

Gilot was the perfect choice for the award, said museum executive director Tony Clark, who presented the award. Like Cocteau, Gilot has worked in all kinds of medium.

"She's so multifaceted," Clark said. "She's been a novelist, an art critic, an artist. She refuses to be put in a box."

Gilot was a friend of Cocteau, and both shared a strong affinity for Greek mythology, he said.

"No matter how you feel about their art, with Cocteau and Gilot above all you will say, 'They have style,' " Clark said.

Those attending included museum founder Severin Wunderman; Jean-Claude Terrac, cultural attache from the French consulate in Los Angeles and his wife Solveig; Jonas Salk (who arrived for a post-tea dinner at Diva with his wife and select friends); Judy Fluor Runels, Joy Tash and Jacques Wizman.

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